The First Internet

20070405newsday

nonlinear… portable…

It’s no secret

The newspaper business is in trouble.

But it’s not becasue newspapers don’t have value.

But I am not so sure that the ‘value’ is in the news. Maybe it’s something else.

I grew up on Long Island, NY.

And the only newspaper we had on Long Island was Newsday. It was a pretty popular paper, and like everyone else, I read it every day.  Looking back on what the paper meant, I realize that the paper was about much more than news. In fact, the news part of it was almost secondary.  Newsday was critical to life on the Island because it provided day to day information essential to living.

And that information generally wasn’t that Ray Margiotta had been indicted again.

Interesting, but who cares.

No.

The information that the paper provided us with was what sales the stores were having. Or what was playing at the movies. These were the ads, not the articles.  Years later, when I lived in Manhattan, and my wife and I wanted to go to the movies, we would open The Times and scan the ads to see what was playing.

On Long Island when I wanted to sell my car, I took an ad in Newsday. When I wanted to sell my boat, I took an ad in Newsday. When I wanted to go to a concert, I checked the paper.  When I needed my first job, I got it through The New York Times.

The paper was much much more than news. Through its ads and its classifieds, it was a community bulletin board.  A place where you went to buy a house, rent an apartment, get a job, see what was for sale at Macy’s, check out the movies, the concerts, the clubs. Do you remember the pages and pages of personal ads in the Village Voice?

In retrospect, I can now see that the local newspaper did what the web would ultimately come to do: publish all the necessary and relevant information that one needed to have a full life – or at least do all the stuff you had to do.  It was the ads as much as the ‘news’ that made the paper not only so attractive, but so essential to day to day life.

Now, as we watch the newspaper industry collapse around us, we are fixated on the journalism. But in retrospect, I think, those news stories were nothing but filler for the ads, and it was the ads that were the really essential part of the paper.

Maybe, if we want to rescue the newspapaper business, and ironically, it is the ads that we should be paying attention to. They not only paid the bills, they broadcast vast reams of local information that, it turns out, was critical.

One response to “The First Internet

  1. Seems like there’s a bit of a contradiction between your sentiment here vs your “king of the news” post. So which is it? Is the value in the “community bulletin board” or in the “professional journalism” you lament losing? FWIW, I think Pandora’s out of the box and there’s no going back.

    What will be more interesting is what sort of social upheaval, if any, is the result of the tectonic shifts we’re undergoing. Over the last fifty years we’ve had relative socio-economic stability and the technological leaps promoted a sort of uniform centralized existence (centralised media mirrored a more federalist nation-state if you will). I think its lulled us all to sleep a bit and there’s a certain sentimentality or sense of loss as we note the change in wind (a veritable nor’easter).

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